Friday, October 01, 2010

In Which Nick Savors a Lovely Moment

Today's Chicago Film Festival press screenings of Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy and Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats (wonderful and good, respectively) marked only the second time in four years that I have swung an invitation to the venue where the critics for the major Chicago media outlets screen the bulk of the films they review. I like seeing movies with an audience, but I'm not so jaded as not to enjoy this rare incursion into the sanctum of the paid professionals. And who among us wouldn't feel a surge of joy at hearing a voice from the hallway saying to some invisible interlocutor, "Chaz and Roger are on their way up"?

Congenitally early, especially for what I had gathered was upper-tier Kiarostami and top-drawer Binoche, I was in my aisle seat, third row from the back, virtually from the moment they opened the screening room. I didn't realize that, once the Eberts had arrived, Roger had placed himself two rows behind me and that, since I'm rather tall, my head might be blocking part of his view. About five minutes into the movie, as William Shimell's "James Miller" got going with his self-satisfied press conference, my peripheral vision caught someone signaling me from just behind my shoulder and to my left: Roger, standing in the aisle. For reasons we all know, he was signaling with hands and gaze rather than words, and the predictable upshot had a lovely extra accent: he wanted me to scooch just a bit out of his eyeline, but not so far that I would block his wife's. "James Miller" needs some tutelage during Certified Copy about how to make a partner feel appreciated, but Roger Ebert obviously doesn't. I migrated one seat, but not two, and looked back to make sure I had understood what he wanted. He looked wholly grateful, but of course he couldn't speak that aloud, either.

So – he gave me a thumbs up. Imagine!

Unlike most of the critics who attended Certified Copy, he stayed for Heartbeats, which started a half-hour later. I noticed he was grabbing some shut-eye between the two movies, and I didn't want to bother him anyway, so I quickly scribbled a note, folded it, and wrote his name across the top, so I could leave it on the seat next to him. But when I re-entered the room to subtly deposit my letter, he was fully awake again and made instant and friendly eye-contact, so I handed him the note in person. So lovely to have an impromptu chance to speak from your heart to someone whom you admire but never expect to thank directly. My note, in certified copy:

Dear Roger,

I teach film studies and occasionally film reviewing in the English Department at Northwestern. You mean so much to so many of my students.

Thanks, in perpetuity, for everything you do, from them and from me. To get a thumbs-up from you—if only for scooting over a seat!—is such a special treat.

With such debts and affection,
Nick Davis

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Mike P said...

I'm so jealous. And not just because I'm not allowed in those screenings. It's not very often that you get to personally thank someone who's had so much of an influence on the world.

(If you see him at another screening, write him a note about a certain bank-owned cinema closing.)

10:17 PM, October 01, 2010  
Blogger Amir said...

i got lucky enough to be able to sit on the seat right behind him, in the screening of "Never Let Me Go" this year at tiff.
it certainly was a great feeling seeing him, and i think most of all, i really admire his dedication. the fact that he travelled far enough to toronto for the festival is really something special.

11:41 PM, October 01, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

He's an inspiring man, for sure, and I loved this post, Nick.

1:01 AM, October 02, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

This is so moving! Two of my online crushes meet!

I had thought of asking you if you had met him but I never did. I was suspecting you would find his status undeserving and that you wouldn't really care to meet him more than, I don't know, some other critic.

Even if you do think he is overrated to some degree, I'm still very happy you respect him as much as you seem to, and for the fact that you chose to tell him that.

A while ago he had made an effort to share his fondness of some movie sites and I reaaaally wanted to tell him about your site but I wasn't sure you'd have liked that. Mostly because there was some harsh remark about his opinion on a subject in an old review of yours. Typing this, it seems like I might have been too careful. Anyway.

I'm pretty sure he'll love your writing when he finally discovers it even if you have very different approaches to movies.

Thank you for sharing this :)

8:31 AM, October 02, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i gather, from everything i've read that he is very sweet and friendly. I've never had any encounter or conversation or online anything with him but rather randomly he linked to a quiz i wrote once about "best actress" and the traffic was INSANE -- like way crazier than IMDB traffic. I can't imagine how many people are plugged into his every thought.

the power of being in people's living rooms for their entire lives, I tell ya.

9:55 AM, October 02, 2010  
Blogger Robert said...

That's a wonderful story, Nick. It is always an amazing experience to meet someone you've admired for a long time -- and an even more special occasion when you have the opportunity to express your appreciation and affection. I'm so glad you made the effort to write Roger a note, and I am sure it meant a great deal to him. Terrific to think of the two of you meeting. You're both two of our very best. Cheers!

9:42 PM, October 02, 2010  
Anonymous Roger Ebert said...

Nick, That note meant a lot to me. By the way, people sit in that seat all the time and it's fine, but Certified Copy had subtitles and you're right: You are tall. One of your posters was afraid to send me here because I might read a rude remark about one of my reviews. He should read some of the rude remarks on my blog! Give me your e-mail sometime and I'll give you a hint about screenings. RE

6:22 PM, October 03, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Mike: The closing of Chicago's own and the world's finest bank-owned cinema is too sad to write anyone a note about, although I'm certainly considering an angry letter to the B. of A., unless you think that's a bad idea. I know I haven't been since my consistent run in winter and spring, but quality of life in Chicago is about to take a huge hit.

@Amir: The common threads here are that we have at least overlapping admiration for the movie-lover in question and that festivals really are the greatest. Did you like Never Let Me Go more than I did?

@James: Airing my dirty laundry! Now my nasty secret's out: Ebert and I had reverse takes on the respective racial politics in The Legend of Bagger Vance and Bring It On, and my contempt for the former and adoration of the letter made me snitty (full disclosure!). Didn't I dislike Bagger enough before it tricked me, ten years later, into looking rude in front of my new guests? Otherwise, I'm happy to report that you guessed wrong! It is funny, though, how we all imagine things about people we read, including how we imagine they feel about other writers or critcs, and who knows when we're right or not. I just hope I'm not sending out some imperious vibe that I'm not aware of, especially about people who have taught me so much! (Of course there are a handful of critics who dependably get me bristling, but Thumper's Mother lived for a reason, and I just keep quiet about them. Publicly!)

@Nathaniel: We can test this theory out when, once the universe is working the way it's supposed to, you get your turn to be in everyone's living room for years at a time. The dream is alive!

@Robert: Well, given the stories you've told me offline, you are the real standard-bearer of paying earnest tribute to people you admire. It was partly by thinking of all your wonderful stories that I realized I ought to seize my moment! (For those of you who don't know Robert, suffice to say that he has made the world a nicer, warmer place for Fred Zinnemann, Freddie Young, Patricia Neal, anyone who cares about the history of the BAFTAs, and the legendary composer Alex North, who acknowledged Robert's championing as a major factor in his eventual receipt of an Honorary Oscar, after 15 losses! That's my paraphrase, not his, of a particularly touching story. Beyond that tidbit, the details of Robert's stories are his to share, but suffice it to say, his generosity sets a shining example.)

@Roger: A delight and an honor to receive this comment from you. I'll be at a few more of the CIFF press screenings this week and will keep my fingers crossed at seeing you again. With James's inconveniently photographic memory to guide me, I'll remember to stay off the subject of Bagger Vance. In all other respects, I really am quite friendly. :)

7:46 PM, October 03, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

Um, I really screwed this up but I couldn't imagine Mr Ebert would come running to make me feel guilty :p

I'm really sorry about that but I know you're a forgiver :)

And I'm so glad I was wrong about your opinion on him!(well, I wasn't sure - I was just considering it as a possibility)

By the way

Mr Ebert (in case you read this):
I visit your blog frequently and I post as Jim T. Believe me, I know how disgusting some comments are and it's admirable that you don't mind posting them!

9:02 PM, October 03, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

James: Oh, I'm just having fun with you. I had thought about hiding (okay, erasing) your comment in case Roger happened to find this post, and imagined I'd said something actually scathing, which I was pretty sure I hadn't. I thought, though, that I was being rather fantastically arrogant to even imagine the circumstance of him visiting, much less minding anything I wrote in my wayward youth. Now, I'm just laughing about it. Besides, honesty = best policy, etc.

And I promise I would have hung up on having a website and a blog a long time ago if I didn't know how to take my lumps, or to chuckle at myself!

9:21 PM, October 03, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

Yeah, I guess I was being overprotective of both of you.

I'm still so excited he found the site and commented!

9:48 PM, October 03, 2010  

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